Desperate migrants taking up work in hazardous environments

Personnel from the Fire and Rescue department engaged in rescue operations after a wall collapsed near Kaloor in the heart of Kochi, trapping three people under it. Photo: via Special arrangement.  

Driven to a state of desperation owing to joblessness in the wake of the pandemic, migrant workers in Ernakulam are increasingly taking up work in highly dangerous environment with fatal consequences.

The death of a 45-year-old worker from Andhra Pradesh after being crushed under a collapsed concrete slab at Kaloor on Wednesday was the latest in a spate of worksite accidents involving migrants in the district since the unlock after the second wave of the pandemic.

While a migrant worker got crushed under a tree, which he was engaged to axe, at Mambra near Angamaly last week, another met with a similar tragic end in July after being crushed between a scaffolding and a collapsed concrete structure while working at the site of an apartment complex under construction at Panampilly Nagar here. Both were from West Bengal.

Fire force officials said there was a clear oversight of safety precautions at the Kaloor worksite. “The huge concrete slab was propped up on three temporary iron rods that fell apart, crushing the workers engaged in widening the drain beneath. Either more iron rods should have been used for greater stability, or the slab should have been permanently fixed before commencement of work. The workers did not even have the customary helmets nor was there any space for them to take cover when the slab came down crushing,” said T.B. Ramakrishnan, Station Officer, Fire and Rescue Services station, Gandhi Nagar.

That the victims were migrants meant that it did not create the same hue and cry when local workers are involved.

“The Kochi Corporation should share responsibility for the accident and violation of safety measures along with the contractor, since the work being held was for the civic body. Desperation to raise their families back home when work is hard to come by in the aftermath of the pandemic means that migrant workers are now taking up even dangerous jobs despite not having the required experience or expertise. They are being exploited for work, which local labourers may turn down for safety reasons,” said Benoy Peter, executive director, Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development.

The migrant workforce is vulnerable, to begin with, since a majority of them belong to either religious minorities or marginalised Dalit or tribal communities predominantly from Assam, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, and West Bengal. Then there are the ethnic minorities within these migrant communities, like those from Andhra Pradesh who were involved in Wednesday’s accident, who are doubly vulnerable, Mr. Peter said.

George Mathew, coordinator, Progressive Workers Organisation, accused the government of both failing to provide worksite safety training to migrant workers and pay compensation when they meet with accidents.

Meanwhile, the Labour Department has initiated steps to provide compensation to the victim of the Kaloor accident under the Employees Compensation Act. “We will submit a report to the Alappuzha Industrial Tribunal shortly,” said Feroz P.M., Labour Officer, Ernakulam.

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2021 3:35:46 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/desperate-migrants-taking-up-work-in-hazardous-environments/article36878007.ece

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